History of the Irish Traveller Tinker Gypsy

Updated April 17, 2017

The nomadic people called Travellers originated in Ireland. Though they have previously been referred to as "tinkers," the term is now considered derogatory. They refer to themselves as "Pavee." Their lifestyle has similarities to Roma Gypsies, but they are not the same ethnicity.


References to nomadic people in Ireland date back to the 12th century. They lived and travelled in horse-drawn wagons and worked as labourers, craftsmen, horse traders and tinsmiths, from which the word "tinker" was derived. Times of hardship and upheaval forced some Travellers to leave Ireland and seek work in England and the United States. Historically and currently, Travellers have been subject to racial discrimination. Many Travellers belong to the Roman Catholic religion.

Current Situation

The website Pavee Point gives an estimate of "around 30,000 Travellers living in the Republic of Ireland, with about 1500 more living in Northern Ireland." Among themselves, they speak a language called Cant or Gammon. Many have become settled into permanent housing. Those who remain nomadic face increasing difficulties in finding sites to legally set up their camping.

Travellers Living Outside Ireland

Many Travellers living in the United States are descendants of those who left Ireland between 1845 and 1860. A community of Travellers lives in Murphy Village, South Carolina. Irish Travellers were first reported as immigrating to the United Kingdom in 1850. More arrived to work as labourers after World War II. In 2000, Travellers in the UK were recognised as an ethnic minority.

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About the Author

Lori Saltis has been writing professionally since 2009 for various websites. Her writing focuses on topics such as travel, arts and entertainment, and product and service reviews. Previously, she worked in graphic design. She received an Associate of Arts in business from West Valley College.